Today myself and Andy Tharby spent some time visiting lessons, looking for bright spots – examples of teachers implementing the 6 principles effectively in their classrooms. This is what we saw:
In maths, Shane Borrett had marked and handed back a set of homework to his class. Individual students were then having to go through and re-do the questions they had got wrong. This often goes wrong, because if the student didn’t know how to do that particular question at home, why would they now be able to do it, simply because their teacher has told them it was wrong? These students were able to because of the feedback Shane had given them on their work. He hadn’t written lengthy comments but just a simple ‘nudge’ to point them in the right direction and see where they had gone wrong e.g. “Why haven’t you used this measurement in your calculation?“. Just enough feedback to make them think about where they had gone wrong and how to correct it, without just telling them.
In English, Kathryn Clarke had set her Y10 class a homework of learning the definitions of various writer’s devices (tier 3 vocabulary). Students were then having to retrieve these from memory at the start of the lesson and write out the definitions to the words, as they were presented to them. As they were doing this, Kathryn was circulating the class, giving them feedback on how they had done and prompts to support them with the ones they were struggling with.
In science, Alex Brown was getting his students to engage with retrieval practice. His lesson was on photosynthesis, but students were being asked to retrieve knowledge on a previously studied topic – cell organelles. This was done through ‘cold call’ questioning i.e. asking a question, pausing so that everybody has to think about the answer and then selecting a student to answer. Alex’s questioning was then scaffolded to link the knowledge from the previous topic to the new one – “Whats this organelle? (chloroplast) What colour is it? Why, what does it contain? What does it do?” This was demonstrating good progression and was a great lead in to today’s lesson.
In geography Sam Atkins was using questioning to great effect with Y9. He was questioning a student, who appeared to be lacking in confidence, on how you describe it when the focus of an earthquake is close to the surface. The boy’s initial response was “I don’t know“, but rather than moving straight on to somebody else, Sam very calmly asked the boy to think about a previous discussion, referred him to a diagram on the board that Sam has used earlier to explain the idea and then allowed the silence, whilst the boy thought – again, avoiding the temptation to just pass the question on to somebody else. Eventually the boy got the answer – shallow. This was also a good example of insisting on a good level level of challenge, by insisting on appropriate use of tier 2 vocabulary.
Finally in a Y8 computing lesson, Claire Taylor was allowing students to practise and embed the block programming that they had been using in previous lessons, to ensure they were secure with this knowledge, before moving them on to the more complex textual programming. This is important in teaching. All too often we move on to more complex ideas and processes, before students have mastered the knowledge needed to do this proficiently.
These are all examples of great teachers using really effective teaching strategies in their day to day work in the classroom. No gimmicks, just good solid teaching, based on what the evidence says is most likely to work. This is what we are about at Durrington.
Shaun Allison is Head of School Improvement at Durrington Multi-Academy Trust. He is also Director of Research School for Durrington Research School and will be delivering training on ‘Evidence informed approach to curriculum, teaching and assessment’, ‘Making Every Lesson Count’ and ‘An evidence informed approach to improving science teaching’.